Europe's ability to develop next-generation combat aircraft has been dangerously eroded, and will reach "a point of no return" unless collaborative funding decisions are made soon, a new industry study warns.

Commissioned by the European Defence Agency (EDA), the Future Air Systems for Europe (FAS4Europe) group study says "the situation for future air systems is severe, with some important industrial capabilities and technologies already at risk".

Without additional investment and a joint strategy, the situation "will soon become critical", it says, identifying the "development of future combat aircraft (manned and unmanned) and attack helicopters" as being at risk.

"Europe's military aeronautics industry remains competitive, however, today's position is based on past investment," the report says. "Many of the capabilities at risk will be very costly, in both time and money, to adequately recover if lost." It warns that in some cases industry will be unable to meet EDA member state requirements by as soon as 2020.

"The timescales and costs associated with advanced military aviation suggest the need for European Union member states to agree a coordinated plan, but no plan exists," the FAS4Europe partners say. "Short-term pragmatic decisions need to be balanced with a long-term strategy and plan for sustaining sovereign military capabilities."

They also point to the strong investments being made by China, Russia and the USA, and by emerging defence and industrial powers Brazil, India, South Korea and Turkey as another reason for action.

Recommendations of the report include a three-phased strategy. To run between 2012 and 2017, the first of these would involve projects to "sustain industrial capabilities, mature technologies and prepare cooperation and business models, as well as procurement processes for common European programmes". Member states should then fund substantial projects, including future air system demonstrator programmes, it suggests.

Companies involved in the FAS4Europe study include BAE Systems, Dassault, EADS, Hellenic Aerospace Industry, Saab and Thales.

Source: Flight International